“May He grant you your heart’s desire and fulfill all your plans…May the Lord fulfill all your petitions.” Psalm 20:4-5
One of the most common questions people ask me in my 35+ years of ministry is some form of “Is it all right to ask God for things?” The “thing” may be healing for a sick loved one, direction for life, a mate, even divine help for a sports team (which is always acceptable for the Kentucky Wildcats…but never for a team with a satanic mascot name, like, say, Duke).
The short answer is yes. Paul wrote that we should let all our requests be made known to God. All means all. When in doubt, ask. Don’t be embarrassed or afraid of offending God. He knows what you want before you ask, according to Jesus, so you can’t hide anything from Him anyway.
Paul was drawing on a deeply rooted biblical tradition. David in many psalms prayed for God to “fulfill your heart’s desire, answer all your petitions, and accomplish all your plans.” He had himself made known many times his desires, petitions, and plans and found God open and answering. He, and other psalmists, had a deep and abiding belief that God responded to us in our times of trouble. This conviction, I’m sure, was based not only on both David’s personal experience, but also his understanding of God’s character.
Jesus made God’s character very clear. He consistently helped people with their most difficult problems. He taught that God is a joyful Giver knowing how to give good things to His children, and being very responsive to our pleas. When I read again Jesus’ teaching about prayer I’m impressed that I usually expect too little from God, not too much.
And going back to Paul, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us. So somehow God takes what may be our most infantile and self-centered prayers and “filters” them so that, purged of any harmful or useless qualities, they can properly become part of what is best for us and the people for whom we pray.
I know the objections. In fact, I hear some people voice so many caveats about prayer that I wonder what they’re left with. Yes, it’s true that prayer mainly changes me. Yes, it’s true that I can’t change someone else through my prayers. Yes, it’s true that God doesn’t grant all my requests. Yes, it’s true that I can sometimes treat God like a cosmic Santa Claus.
But it’s also true that my prayers somehow release God’s power into my life and the lives of people I pray for. God and prayer are powerfully mysterious, but I do know that my prayers are part of God’s Providence.
My mother would conclude every phone conversation of my adult life with “I pray for you every day.” How much of my life has been shaped by those prayers? I can’t know, of course, but I’m greatly comforted by the conviction that God honored a mother’s prayer for her son. And that conviction compels me to bring to God my desires, plans, and petitions for myself, and for you.
Grace and peace,
Dr. Terry Ellis
June 23, 2019